Tree Aid CEO, Tom Skirrow, Forest Governance Specialist, Alexis Sompougdou, and Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Annie Schultz, reflect on their experiences at the conference.
Together, they ask ‘how can we bridge the gap between funding pledges for ecosystem restoration and projects on the ground in African Dryland communities, in a way that creates truly impactful investment?’
Alexis, Annie & Tom arriving in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Post-pandemic, the chance to share a room with all manner of experts, scientists, government officials and funders felt like a treasured opportunity.
Our team attended their first UNCCD COP with the objective of fostering conversations, collaborations and debates to scale-up ecosystem restoration in the drylands of Africa, particularly the Great Green Wall. Two weeks later, our team is tired but inspired. We share an overriding sense that everyone attending was in agreement on the now steps needed to tackle the causes of land degradation.
We know that to deliver the ambitious targets of the Great Green Wall project, we will have to:
People and land are inextricably tied together, and the communities on the frontlines of desertification must feel empowered to lead restoration. Good governance can ensure community empowerment, and that projects are fair, sustainable, ethical and transparent. Without this framework, investments run the risk of losing their momentum or worse, are left open to exploitation and failure.
At COP15, we felt a real responsibility to hammer home the key lesson learned from our 35 years of experience on the ground; that governance must come first.
“If nobody owns it, nobody cares for it. If everyone owns it, everyone cares for it” – Tom Skirrow, Tree Aid CEO
We have learnt the vital importance of a community-first approach that builds on existing knowledge and expertise. This underpins all of our activities in the Sahel: our work is led by local people with local knowledge, whom we equip with the tools needed to grow trees, protect their land, and start sustainable businesses.
Our approach also pushes for long-term change, influencing policy and ensuring local people have the rights needed to manage their land sustainably.
"It is the one who sleeps in the house, who knows where the roof is leaking. The communities are at the forefront, they have the knowledge and great capacity to adapt. Our experience shows that when local communities are at the heart of the fight against desertification, we get better results" - Alexis Sompougdou
"We are not protecting trees for the sake of it... we do it so that trees provide services to the communities”
– Georges Bazongo, Tree Aid Director of Programmes
Tree Aid are big advocates of the power of tree products to achieve sustainable, empowering ecosystem restoration. Done right, this can tackle both poverty and land degradation. For example, shea trees provide a vital source of income in countries like Burkina Faso, employing over 16 million women on the African continent in total!
Photography: Lema Concepts - Nakolo Union enterprise group making shea butter - Grow Hope project, 2019 Tree Aid
Global export comprises a large and vital part of this industry, with shea butter now found in many households across Europe and beyond. We recognise the important role of funding from businesses looking to invest in ecosystem restoration projects, and welcome their presence and interest at COP15.
Fig1. Increase in household income from Non-Timber Forest Products over the lifetime of Tree Aid's Strengthening Forest Management project in Mali
Tree Aid was proud to moderate the UNCCD Business Forum session to launch the Great Green Wall Sourcing Challenge – seeking new business investment and sourcing products across the Sahel. In the same session, we helped launch the World Economic Forum / 1t.org’s latest Uplink challenge to support capable “ecopreneurs”, who can help develop locally owned businesses to supply these burgeoning value chains.
Tree Aid CEO, Tom Skirrow, moderating at the Great Green Wall Sourcing Challenge Session
However, we are keen to yet again stress the importance of putting communities first, especially when looking to invest in potentially lucrative new markets. From the deforestation crisis of the global palm oil boom to the socio-economic implications of the quinoa health food trend, the unexpected consequences of poorly thought-out private investment are well documented.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” - African Proverb
The Great Green Wall is behind its ambitious targets. With just 8 years left to transform the Sahel, what will it take to accelerate the pace of change?
But this has not yet been at community level: Civil society organisations and local business across the African Drylands are still crying out for support, as the promised funds are not set up to finance the myriad of small-scale, disconnected projects that are needed.
To deliver at scale across the Great Green Wall, we need mechanisms both in civil society and in ‘ecopreneurship’ to channel funding across the region. Through relationship and coalition building at events like COP15 and beyond, Tree Aid is committed to fostering this change.
Tom and Annie meet Chadian environmental activist, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim